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Irrigation Efficiency: more food with less water

  • Job DurationedX
  • Job Duration6 weeks long, 3-6 hours a week
  • Job DurationFree Online Course (Audit)

Project detail


How can we meet the demands of our ever hungrier and thirstier world? Irrigation water uses 70% of the fresh water extraction worldwide to produce 40% of the food.

Arid countries are dependent on these cropproduction systems but irrigation is usually operated at low efficiency. There is great potential to increase food output per drop of water from field through farm up to catchment level.

In this intermediate course you will learn about the irrigation supply chain, from water sources to root zone. First, you’ll learn to calculate the amount of water plants need to produce a healthy and plentiful crop. You will then see how this water is supplied to the roots and how it getsto the field from the source.

We’ll see how efficiency influences the design and operation of both the water application and conveyance components of irrigation systems. Towards the end we will explore a number of real-world systems including drip irrigation and surface irrigation. Together with experts in irrigation we will see different perspectives on efficiency.

As you progress through the course, you will understand the drivers of irrigation efficiency for irrigators, water users and communities. This will allow you to see efficiency at the scale of the entire water resource, taking a more holistic view of water flows, water losses and possible water savings. At this stage in the course we’ll invite you to talk about a system in your country and apply this holistic water resource view.

Equipped with this knowledge you will be prepared to start producing more food with less water.

The course is run by KU Leuven in Belgium which has a long-standing tradition of teaching water resources subjects. Together the instructors have several decades of teaching experience in irrigation and water resources. The course is accessible to students from a variety of backgrounds, as long as they have the prerequisite knowledge. It will be especially beneficial to individuals involved in irrigation projects who can put the techniques and ideas discussed into practice.


Module 1: What is ‘irrigation efficiency’?
Review of what makes up an irrigation system and introduction to the concepts of irrigation efficiency such as classical and net efficiency and how they differ from productivity indicators.

Module 2: How much water do we need?
Review of the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum. Explanation of the process to calculate the water needed for irrigation at field level. Calculation of the soil water content. Creation of irrigation schedules by combining the irrigation requirement and the soil water storage.

Module 3: Field application efficiency
Introduction to uniformity, adequacy and their impact on efficiency. In-depth look at surface, sprinkler and drip irrigation systems and the factors influencing application efficiency with these methods.

Module 4: Water conveyance and distribution efficiency
Introduction to conveyance systems by looking at different real-life cases involving canals. Concepts involved in canal operation and flow monitoring along with the different types of distribution by canal. Pressurised flow in piped systems and the principal differences with a canal system.

Module 5: Integrated view and case studies
Introduction to four different irrigation case studies from South America and Europe; Equity in a large Peruvian system, Vegetable growing in Andalusia, Belgian advisory service and Ecuadorian proportional division system. Introduction to the fractions method and application to a system from the case studies.

Module 6: Closing and goodbye
Finishing and closing remarks, good bye message and exit survey.

Languages required